Ezra Pound on Vorticism

It is no more ridiculous that a person should receive or convey an emotion by means of an arrangement of shapes, or planes, or colours, than that they should receive or convey such emotion by an arrangement of musical notes.


I SUPPOSE THIS PROPOSITION is self-evident. Whistler said as much, some years ago, and Pater proclaimed that “All arts approach the conditions of music.”

Whenever I say this I am greeted with a storm of “Yes, but”…s. “But why isn’t this art futurism?” “Why isn’t?” “Why don’t?” and above all: “What, in Heaven’s name, has it got to do with your Imagiste poetry ?”

Let me explain at leisure, and in nice, orderly, old-fashioned prose.

We are all futurists to the extent of believing with Guillaume Appollonaire that “On ne peut pas porter partout avec soi le cadavre de son pere.” But “futurism,” when it gets into art, is, for the most part, a descendant of impressionism. It is a sort of accelerated impressionism.

There is another artistic descent viâ Picasso and Kandinsky; viâ cubism and expressionism. One does not complain of neo-impressionism or of accelerated impressionism and “simultaneity,” but one is not wholly satisfied by them. One has perhaps other needs.

IT IS VERY DIFFICULT to make generalities about three arts at once. I shall be, perhaps, more lucid if I give, briefly, the history of the vorticist art with which I am most intimately connected, that is to say, vorticist poetry. Vorticism has been announced as including such and such painting and sculpture and “Imagisme” in verse. I shall explain “Imagisme,” and then proceed to show its inner relation to certain modern paintings and sculpture.

Imagisme, in so far as it has been known at all, has been known chiefly as a stylistic movement, as a movement of criticism rather than of creation. This is natural, for, despite all possible celerity of publication, the public is always, and of necessity, some years behind the artists’ actual thought. Nearly anyone is ready to accept “Imagisme” as a department of poetry, just as one accepts “lyricism” as a department of poetry.

There is a sort of poetry where music, sheer melody, seems as if it were just bursting into speech.

There is another sort of poetry where painting or sculpture seems as if it were “just coming over into speech.”

The first sort of poetry has long been called “lyric.” One is accustomed to distinguish easily between “lyric” and “epic “ and “didactic.” One is capable of finding the “lyric” passages hi a drama or in a long poem not otherwise “lyric.” This division is in the grammars and school books, and one has been brought up to it.

The other sort of poetry is as old as the lyric and as honourable, but, until recently, no one had named it. Ibycus and Liu Ch’e presented the “Image.” Dante is a great poet by reason of this faculty, and Milton is a wind-bag because of his lack of it. The “image” is the furthest possible remove from rhetoric. Rhetoric is the art of dressing up some unimportant matter so as to fool the audience for the time being. So much for the general category. Even Aristotle distinguishes between rhetoric, “which is persuasion,” and the analytical examination of truth. As a “critical ” movement, the “Imagisme” of 1912 to ’14 set out “to bring poetry up to the level of prose.” No one is so quixotic as to believe that contemporary poetry holds any such position. . . . Stendhal formulated the need in his De l’Amour:–
La poésie avec ses comparaisons obligées, sa mythologie que ne croit pas le poeté, sa dignité de style à la Louis XIV et tout l’attirail de ses ornements appelés poétique, est bien au dessous de la prose dès qu’il s’agit de donner une idée claire et précise des mouvements de coeur, or dans ce genre on n’émeut que par la clarté.
Flaubert and De Maupassant lifted prose to the rank of a finer art, and one has no patience with contemporary poets who escape from all the difficulties of the infinitely difficult art of good prose by pouring themselves into loose verses.

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